A deep dive into Brock Purdy's chances of leading the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl

Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) warms up before a wild card game against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

• Purdy limiting errors: The rookie's 1.6% turnover-worthy play rate over his past four games would have been the best mark of any quarterback in the 2022 regular season.

• No big plays, no problem: Despite a low big-time throw rate, Purdy is limiting mistakes and playing solid football — which is enough considering the 49ers' loaded supporting cast.

• How 2022 compares to Garoppolo's 2019 run: Garoppolo made more big plays bit was also more careless with the ball, and so there's no reason to believe Purdy can't take this team to the Super Bowl.

Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins

On It’s Just Football, PFF’s Trevor Sikkema made the case that a mistake-free Brock Purdy can take the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl. Let's dive into what it would take from Purdy to get the 49ers there, how his run compares to what Jimmy Garoppolo did during the 2019 playoffs and what kind of help Purdy can expect from his supporting cast.

What Purdy does well

Rookie quarterbacks are often susceptible to careless play as they adjust to the NFL, but only 3.1% of Purdy's pass attempts were deemed turnover-worthy between Week 13 and the end of the regular season, which ranked 15th out of 30 qualifying quarterbacks. It's an average number, but an impressive one for a first-year signal-caller. If we just look at his past four games — including the wild-card round win over the Seattle Seahawks — his turnover-worthy pass rate drops to just 1.6%, which would have been the best rate in the entire league during the 2022 regular season.

Brock Purdy Wild-Card Performance
Stat Figure Rank (among 12 playoff QBs)
Overall Grade 73.6 6th
Passing Grade 67.3 6th
Adjusted Comp. % 67.9% 7th
Big-Time Throw % 3.2% 6th
Turnover-Worthy Play % 0% T-1st

However, Purdy’s big-time throw rate — successful passes with a higher level of difficulty — of 1.7% in that regular-season span ranked fourth lowest in the NFL. The 49ers have relied more on Purdy's ability to not make mistakes than to single-handedly win games for them by making difficult downfield throws.

How it compares to Jimmy Garoppolo’s 2019 season

While Garoppolo’s 2.6% big-time throw rate in 2019 was higher than that of Purdy's this season, the veteran's 3.4% turnover-worthy pass rate that year was also higher than that of the rookie signal-caller this year. But while the 49ers reached the Super Bowl in 2019, Garoppolo did not play particularly well on the road to get there. He made two turnover-worthy passes on just 19 total attempts (9.5% rate) against the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round and had just 17 completions for 208 passing yards in San Francisco’s two games leading to the Super Bowl. He graded out lower in all three postseason games that year (65.5 vs. Vikings, 61.7 vs. Packers, 63.8 vs. Chiefs) than Purdy’s 73.6 overall mark against the Seahawks in the wild-card round.

An elite supporting cast

Assuming Purdy continues to limit mistakes, the 49ers don't need him to make big, eye-popping plays because of the team around the former Iowa State quarterback. In 2019, the 49ers' defense allowed the second-lowest expected points added per play in the regular season, behind only the New England Patriots. In 2022, the 49ers' defense allowed the second-lowest EPA per play in the regular season behind only, you guessed it, the Patriots.

While this year's defense is eerily similar to that season’s unit, the offensive supporting cast is better, which should be a significant boon to the rookie quarterback. While the 2019 49ers offense ranked only 23rd in the NFL in EPA per play on screen passes, this year's team finished with the third-highest EPA per play in the league on screen passes.

The midseason addition of running back Christian McCaffrey has also boosted the offense. On passes — not just screen plays — to running backs, the 2019 49ers generated the 19th-highest EPA per play, while this year's offense ranked second in the league. And head coach Kyle Shanahan’s running game has remained just as, if not more, efficient as it was three years ago. In 2019, the 49ers averaged 1.7 yards before contact on run plays, which ranked fifth in the NFL, while in 2022 they averaged 1.9 yards before contact, which was the third-most in the NFL.

So, can Purdy take the 49ers to the Super Bowl?

From what we learned about Purdy’s first NFL starts, how his play stacks up to Jimmy Garoppolo in 2019 and how well San Francisco can mitigate the inexperience of its rookie quarterback, we can conclude that this setup can indeed take the 49ers to the promised land.

While Purdy has not been racking up big-time throws so far, he is taking care of the ball — and we could make the case that he has been playing better than Jimmy Garoppolo did toward the end of the 2019 season. In addition, the 49ers' defense and its supporting cast have not only been playing extremely well, they even compare favorably to that 2019 team. If they continue playing this way and both the quarterback and the defense keep up their ends of the bargain, then there is no reason to doubt that San Francisco can win its next two games and punch its ticket to Glendale, Arizona, for the Super Bowl LVII.


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